Five years ago this week we lost our first daughter to a late miscarriage. I quietly collapsed. Unable to write, I abandoned my PhD dissertation – and have rarely felt fluent in writing since. We named our daughter Hope, because, after a long-time trying to conceive, she had given us hope of having a family. Over the next two years we had two more miscarriages. I put my energy into work and politics. In 2019, walking the Coast to Coast route, we decided to explore adoption. Later this year we’re hoping to be granted an adoption order for two children placed with us last Autumn.
I’ve tried, and failed, to write about these experiences before. Miscarriage is a complicated and often very private loss. Adoption equally lacks simple narratives: in many cases everyone, adult and child, come to it from a place of both loss and of hope. All stories involving family are shared stories where each party to them has different experiences, needs for acknowledgement, and needs for privacy. And adopting during a pandemic complicates the hope of building new family, with the loss of normal social interactions and clarity about the future.
However, to leave these experiences out of the public ‘biography’ created through various writings and work here or elsewhere, creates a gap in my own story that I’ve found increasingly difficult: particularly as my focus in the coming years will be much more on the equal parenting two children with my partner than on the kinds of projects and work I’ve done in the past. As this comes to transform both what I work on and how, there is both hope for new adventures and growth, and a loss to acknowledge, familiar to many parents I’m sure, of established identity, roles and routines.
As the personal is never separate from the social, I also find it important to recognise the last year as one of profound societal and individual losses across the world: both directly from the pandemic, and from the wider environmental and political challenges it has placed into sharp relief. At the same time, the last year has provided glimpses of hope for new ways of living more connected and sustainable lives.
Returning to the personal: in many ways, it feels as though my last five years have been a time of living with loss, but acting with hope. I look towards future years of living with hope, but acting everyday in recognition of loss.
In the short liturgy we held to remember our first daughter, we used words from Emily Dickinson that I’m now reminded of daily when our children take joy in seeing the birds in the garden:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.